Friday, November 13, 2009
A little while ago, this photograph, from the Cleveland Press Collection, part of the Special Collections at Cleveland State University came to my attention. The image, taken in 1935, shows the athlete Jesse Owens seated in front of his house. The photograph was presumably taken for a newspaper story detailing the Big Ten track meet in Michigan in which Owens beat three world records and tied a fourth in the space of 45 minutes. Owens would go on to win four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
I asked the Cleveland State University Special Collections librarian Bill Barrow if he might send me a higher resolution version of the file to help me identify the location of the house. Perhaps a half hour or 45 minutes later, I received an email from Mr. Barrow with an address - 2178 East 100th Street - the house was still standing.
The next morning, I stopped by on the way to work to see the house for myself. It is presently occupied, as a rental property. It has suffered the indignity of vinyl replacement windows and vinyl siding, but otherwise remains in solid condition. The condition of the interior is unknown.
I had Michael Ruffing, a librarian in the History and Geography department of Cleveland Public Library check the city directories, to see if we could figure out how long Owens lived at that address. The directories show him at this address from 1934-1936 - the most important years of his Cleveland residency.
The house is one of five houses in the neighbhorhood owned by one John Cummings, a resident of 2214 East 100th Street. These are presumably rental properties. Mr. Cummings long term plans for the properties are not known.
The threat to this house is the continued expansion of the Cleveland Clinic. The Clinic has shown their feelings for historic preservation quite clearly in the demolition of the Art Deco Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine building to make way for surface parking.
A medium-sized building is under construction just across the street from the Jesse Owens house. It is only a matter of time before this house is put on the Clinic's demolition list.
This house should be a Cleveland landmark - it was the residence, at the height of his career, of one the most important athletes to ever come from this city. If the interior remains relatively original, it might be worth considering for National Historic Landmark status.
There are two other addresses associated with Jesse Owens in Cleveland, per the city directories - 2020 Hamilton Avenue, from 1924 to 1926, and 2212 East 90th Street, from 1927-1929. The 1930 Federal Census also places Owens at the East 90th Street address. There are no listings for the Owens family in the city directories from 1930-1933. Michael Ruffing, a librarian in the History and Geography department at Cleveland Public Library provided this information.
The structure at 2020 Hamilton Avenue is no longer standing. I do not know whether it was a house, apartment building, or perhaps an apartment over a store.
The Owens residence from 1927-1930, 2212 East 90th Street, is still standing. While a nice house, in good condition, it was not from as important a time in Owens' life.